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Reports

Monday, 10 March 2003
Langley > Kamloops, Canada

This morning I woke up early, at 7.30am, had a shower, packed my bags and had a quick cereal breakfast in the living room. Kirsti was going to bring the kids to school and I was going along with Dr. Steven to his dental practice. I said goodbye to Kirsti and thanked her for the hospitality she had offered the last few days.

Kirsti thanked me in return, for providing them with a few days of entertainment.

“You showed us how to better enjoy our own environment. You were great with the kids and they really enjoyed having you around. Your passion for life set an example for all of us!” I get many compliments through email, but this was a rather direct one to receive. Thanks!



At the dental practice the assistants played around with my mouth and I had a check, but there was nothing to worry about. As Kirsti and Steven just did not see me hitchhiking all the way to my next destination city Kamloops, they offered me to pay for the bus ticket. “What do you prefer, going by bus or still using your thumb?” Kirsti had asked last night. “Well, I guess a bus is a lift too,” I smiled, and Kirsti booked me a seat on the Greyhound bus.

One of the assistants, Marian, dropped me off at the bus depot in Langley after I thanked Steven for his great company and support. The bus left at 10.40am and it was going to be a almost five hours drive to Kamloops.

Outside the scenery changed a bit from hilly to more mountainous, but I actually expected to see more and more snow than before. Wasn’t it supposed to be getting cold? Weren’t there reports about a snow blizzard a few days ago? People were worried about me as the highway even had to close!

But as the bus drove north, pass towns as Chilliwack and Merritt, the sky was blue and the landscape golden brown. Like it has been covered under snow for a long time.

It must mention the bus driver. He was an interesting character that at least tried to make the whole trip bearable. When he talked (not often), he talked slowly as he was tired of repeating the same stories over and over again, but he did it in such an exaggerated way that it became funny. The fact was, he did it on purpose. At a fifteen minutes break stop in a quiet town, he took of the intercom at the resthouse and announced s l o w l y that his passengers had to stop bothering those people at the sandwich bar and leave those vending machines alone. “We should better get going again, otherwise they start to think crazy about us in this town.”

“Hey guys, I get paid per mile and not for my head.” A memorable quote!

The bus arrived in Kamloops around 3 o’clock in the afternoon and I called my hostess on her toll free number. I have arrived in the area of Canada where I don’t seem to have any international roaming support for my cell phone, so I will depend on a few quarters on the road now. Fortunately Steven had given me a few bucks for a drink and a sandwich on the road.

According to my GPS device Kamloops has an elevation of 500 meters above sea level. I had also expected it to be so much colder here. It was cold, but it was not Oh-my-God-I-am-freezing-my-butt-off-cold. It was only hey-let’s-put-my-hands-in-my-pockets-and-just-wait-for-my-hostess-to-pick-me-up-cold. And that’s not really cold. Trust me.

Kamloops is seen as the heart of British Columbia, home to the second largest city in the interior. I discovered a landscape of scenic Western images, half snow-covered brown grasslands, cattle ranches, sagebrush and mountain vistas.

Two hundred years ago, fur traders travelled along a great river that would come to be named for the explorer David Thompson, and where the North and South Thompson met, they built a trading post. Decades later, in the Gold Rush of 1860s, a village was born where Kamloops (“where the rivers meet”) lies today. Cattle ranching and railroads followed and in 1893 Kamloops became one of British Columbia’s first cities.

I was pretty soon picked up by Ruth Clarke, a true born Kamloops lady, who immediately took me for a short tour around brown sad and dusty Kamloops, which very much reminded me of Mount Isa[/i] in the Australian outback.

Ruth has worked as a library technician of the
University of British Columbia in Vancouver for over 19 years. She eventually returned back to Kamloops a few years ago to take care of her ill mum and stick with the family again.

Kamloops is partly situated in a strange kind of valley. The side of it looks like the edges of a dried up lake. Ruth confirmed to me there once was this big glacier in up the valley. At the bottom of any glacier is a natural dam of rocks and in the far away past (say 9,000 billion years ago or something) that dam broke and lots of ice and water went down the valley and created this valley Kamloops is situated in. Strange to see! We actually drove around in what used to be the mud bottom of a giant lake!

After doing some air runs to the supermarket for tonight’s dinner, we arrived at her home in downtown Kamloops. Ruth lives in a very old wooden house, where her entire family used to live in. She showed me around in the rooms and was proud to show me her here-is-everything-from-the-past-50-years-attic. This must be a dream world for kids. And you’ll find anything here if Ruth would start a garage sale!

Nowadays Ruth lives there all by herself, so she rents out one room to students. “You are staying only one day, but I have had people from all over the world living here. Some for a month, some for over a year! And they were from Germany, Japan, Korea, and etcetera!” And we soon had a conversation about the differences between the rest of the world and Canada. “It seems like it is for example easier to open a bank account here, than it would be in Australia!” she explained.

And then there is that strange tax system. Everything in British Columbia has a price tag, but that price is exclusive the tax. So if you buy for 35 dollars of groceries, you need to have more with you as the tax is added on it when you want to pay at the cash register. Isn’t that unusual? Thankfully not every province in Canada handles like this.

“If you buy one donut, you pay more tax than when you pay six donuts. Because one donut is seen as a luxury and a pack of six is seen as a necessary food pack.” Unbelievable, but true in BC…

When Ruth started preparing a nice vegetable stir fry dinner with beef, I met up with her boarder Wayne. Wayne is studying to become a primary school teacher and is from the nation’s capital Ottawa. Ruth already told me about him as he heard about me and told her I was the biggest scam in the world! “He gets everything for free!” But then Ruth gave the opposite example of a sport athlete, who also get a lot, “Are they dodgers too? Don’t think so.”

Fortunately Wayne got to understand my project a bit more and he come over a bit more respectful then when he first heard about me. “I want to do what you do too, but I am a leader,” he said. “At this moment you are the leader, so I’ll do something that will be totally my idea. I want to teach English in Mexico, that’s a way of travelling too.”

After dinner Wayne did his homework while he – I found inconsiderately - loud heavy metal music from his room, but Ruth was probably used to anything worse already.

It was now, while Ruth and I sat at the dinner table, when she told the alternate reason for her to invite me over. I guessed right that it was time to get my paper notebook with me. “My areas of interest at the moment, lay in the production of clothing for people with special dressing needs. I have an entire line ready for production, which is especially made for people in wheelchairs,” and she showed me some delicate samples, like a rain coat that covers only half the back (people sit in a wheelchair) and covers the legs part too. “And the hood of this coat has special designed see through windows, so people can look through the sides when they are in traffic.” She has really studied this thoroughly! Another example were the special trousers she had made. You can actually get them on without having to get your legs all the way through. “It’s like a cloth you put on your legs, wrap it around your leg and zip it closed.”

“I am currently pushing the production of a house coat made in the same materials as a bath robe. I have been to hotels, resorts and on cruise liners and when you look into the especially for disabled people designated rooms, you’ll see bath robes for normal people! How can people in wheelchairs wear these things?”

With this experience in the industry for clothing for disabled people, Ruth used to write columns for the American magazine PN News, a magazine for paralyzed veterans. "Through that column I got in contact with the Amputee Coalition of America who invited me to come and expose the products at a conference."

This is where she met Chaz. Chaz was heavily disabled, a triple (!) amputee. And they talked about new designed technology and humanitarian work he wanted to do. Since then there are over 350 prosthetic limbs in the African country Sierra Leone.

Chaz invented the technology that people can have prosthetic arms and still are able to use them, to pick things up for example.

Chaz past away in July last year. He had an heart attack, most probably because of the stress he was in; he worked constantly on this new technology himself, while the financial support budget was almost zero.

With pride Ruth shows me photographs of people in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan who are wounded through war or diseases. They received the prosthetic limbs and you could clearly see this very emotional smile on their face. One man’s hand was shot of during a war and could finally pick up something for the first time in one year. A man in Sierra Leone had both his hands cut off by rebels (who just do that country wide for their own pleasure!) and since a long time he could actually hug his kids again! “Can you believe how it would be to live without your hands?” Ruth asked.

And before I knew Ruth had dressed me with this prosthetic arm. While pretending that my hand does not work anymore, I could actually move the iron hand while holding my shoulders straight. I could actually pick up my camera and write something down with a pen! This was amazing.

“The idea is to have these prosthetic limbs to be available in eight countries within three years and to do full technology transfers so the doctors there know how to work with the materials.” Nowadays Ruth works a lot at her at home office, calling people in the health care and production industry, sending loads of emails and writing many reports about the prosthetic limbs and about the happiness people receive when they get the chance for a new prosthetic limb. “It is the change of a life.”

“Since Chaz died, I am determined forward and expand his technology in his honour,” she said. For more information about Ruth’s purposes you can visit her websites at [url=www.fashionmagic.bc.ca]www.fashionmagic.bc.ca and www.czbiomed.md.

“This summer I hope to have enough funding to go to Afghanistan and teach doctors at the hospitals how they can use these new sorts of prosthetics.” Hopefully it will snowball for Ruth.

Then she laughed about the other thing she makes and she shows me this big bag. “This is a bag where you can put your spare leg in, for athletes for example.” Of course, because you don’t want to hand your spare leg over your shoulder when you take a train, do you? It thought that was actually quite original. And funny. “It’s a leg bag!”

It ended up as an enervating evening for both of us as she managed to exchange information with me, I normally never get in contact with. I hope Ruth will have lots of luck in the nearby future and that the prosthetic limbs can make many people happy. The only people who now have to start believing in it, are nation’s government. They should heavily subsidise projects like these, I guess. Because nothing in the world is better, than making tarnished people happy!

Good night Kamloops!

Ramon